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Beowulf: A Verse Translation by Seamus…
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Beowulf: A Verse Translation (edition 2002)

by Seamus Heaney (Translator), Daniel Donoghue (Editor)

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6611022,054 (4.14)17
Member:KevinMiller
Title:Beowulf: A Verse Translation
Authors:Seamus Heaney (Translator)
Other authors:Daniel Donoghue (Editor)
Info:W. W. Norton & Company, 2002
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Medieval Literature, Anglo-Saxons

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Beowulf: A Verse Translation [Norton Critical Edition] by Daniel Donoghue

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From the very first word of Heany's translation, I was captivated. He has managed to retain the elemental and visceral power of the original while giving it a contemporary voice. This is not a modern interpretation; it is a modern translation, by someone who knows that poetry is more than rhyme and meter; who knows that the swords and monsters embedded in myth are the least powerful of all things found there.

The power of Beowulf is not in the story itself, though it is a compelling and very human one; nor has it because the poem is a curiosity piece. Beowulf is important because it tells us so much about how people over a thousand years ago saw the world, and represented the essential struggles - both the heroic and the doomed - of life. And for us to realise that they are no different from our view of life. This is not a poem about a hero; it is about the what moves the world and what we face to withstand it - and that we may be often fallible, and frequently frail, but such things do not define us.

I studied Beowulf in the original language as part of my Old English course at University and got far less out of a rather intense study of it than I got from a single reading of this translation.

( )
  AlanSkinner | Jul 26, 2013 |
This edition is really good, with lots of critical material, including Tolkien's seminal essay. It includes some explanations of traditions in Old English poetry and the translator's introduction, as well, before the text.

Seamus Heaney's translation itself is a true translation/appropriation. It's interesting to see where he used Ulster dialect. I haven't read any other translation of Beowulf, except in short extracts, but this version is both a translation of the poem and a new work in itself. It flows very well and is easy to read, which is another mark of a good translation, to my mind. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
I read this imagining it being read aloud (or recited) over a series of nights in a Medieval mead hall. In my brain it was a Nordic hall with a borderline viking audience, but I hope you'll forgive me as the story is super Nordic in flavor. I think it makes more sense like that. The way it's organized, the dynamic action, the repetition of stuff we've already heard in great detail....It seems made for a listening audience, divided up into self contained story units for many nights of consecutive storytelling. That or it was compiled from several pre-existing stories mashed together. Probably both.

As such it definitely doesn't have the level of story craft we expect from modern literature. You will never, ever find a character retelling in exact detail the events he has just lived through that you just read a few pages back in a modern book. But there it is in Beowulf. There are also some continuity errors. While eulogizing Beowulf it is claimed that swords always failed Beowulf because his strength was such that they always broke on the first swing....except earlier the author had gone on at length about how fantastic this ancient sword was and it wasn't until Beowulf found this fantastic ancient sword that he could defeat Grendel's mother. Also, stop talking about your father in heaven. Really. Invoking Christian mythology in the middle of a monster-fighting action scene isn't badass, it's just weird. Clearly I'm not a 12th century Saxon.

That said I can see why this is important historically and artistically. Heaney's translation is vibrant and dynamic as I imagine the original must have been to Old English folk. And while the structure and style is almost certainly lifted for older Nordic skaldic poetry (oh the kennings!) there is a maturity and thoughtfulness to it that you don't often see in old heroic tales. As much as Beowulf is about super-human heroics it is just as much about mortality and the inevitability of even the greatest man's downfall. It adds a level of humanity to the story that isn't often seen in mythic tales.

On the other hand it's not nearly as mad and funny as its Nordic kin. Not one goat-testicle tug of war if you can believe it. ( )
1 vote fundevogel | Dec 6, 2012 |
In the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Irishman Seamus Heaney ponders the epic nature of the story and the mythology of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. He wonders at why Beowulf’s story is not as well known as Greek mythology and Homer. My initial thought on reading the poem (in Heaney’s poetic translation) is that it’s just not as good. But such a reaction is not fair, because I am not at all familiar with the traditions, the style of poetry, and the historic characters and mythological gods.

Maybe because it was so unfamiliar to me, I found I was completely unmoved by the story, for that’s all it seemed to be to me. There was no emotion and no epic feel to it. The story was violent, and for me, it just felt flat. Nothing much happened beyond the good guys winning. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not an adventure person, and Beowulf never rose above a stereotypical “adventure story” for me.

Given my unfamiliarity with the Scandinavian myths and traditions, I accept that this is my failing, and probably not an issue with the text or the translation, neither of which I feel qualified to comment on. I will have to revisit Beowulf in the future when I’m more prepared.
More on my blog
  rebeccareid | Mar 27, 2011 |
I was very surprised by how readable the translation was. The notes and Translator's Introduction are brilliant. It has inspired me to read the poem in other translations too.
  GavinBowtell | Jul 1, 2009 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Donoghueprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beowulf Poetmain authorall editionsconfirmed
AlcuinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chance, JaneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Donoghue, DanielEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Donoghue, DanielContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frank, RobertaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gregory of ToursContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heaney, SeamusTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hill, ThomasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leyerle, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robinson, Fred C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tolkien, J. R. R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Webster, LeslieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
William of MalmesburyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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This LT Work is a Norton Critical Edition of the epic poem, Beowulf, in the Seamus Heaney Translation and edited by Daniel Donoghue. Please do not combine it either with alternate versions of the Norton Critical Edition (e.g., the Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph E. Tuso) or with the LT Work for the original poem itself. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393975800, Paperback)

Winner of the Whitbread Prize, Seamus Heaney’s translation "accomplishes what before now had seemed impossible: a faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right" (New York Times Book Review).

The translation that "rides boldly through the reefs of scholarship" (The Observer) is combined with first-rate annotation. No reading knowledge of Old English is assumed. Heaney’s clear and insightful introduction to Beowulf provides students with an understanding of both the poem’s history in the canon and Heaney’s own translation process.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The translation that "rides boldly through the reefs of scholarship" (The Observer) is combined with first-rate annotation. No reading knowledge of Old English is assumed. Heaney's clear and insightful introduction to Beowulf provides students with an understanding of both the poem's history in the canon and Heaney's own translation process.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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